We’re now officially eight weeks into the NFL season, and we know considerably more about the league than when we tried this exercise in the preseason. The Patriots once again look like the Patriots, Nick Bosa has separated himself from the rest of the defensive rookie pack, and an MVP favorite has emerged. So with a half-season of knowledge under our belts, here are the Ringer staff’s midseason NFL playoff and awards predictions.
Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Winner
Robert Mays: The way that Green Bay’s defense and Aaron Rodgers are playing right now, it’s starting to feel like the NFC playoffs might go through Lambeau Field. And I’m just not sure how you can pick against this Patriots defense. New England is almost sure to have home-field advantage throughout the AFC, and that would spell another Super Bowl win.
Kevin Clark: I picked the Eagles to win the Super Bowl before the season, forgetting the cardinal rule of football: The Patriots always win the Super Bowl. Now that they’ve got Tom Brady and a historically good defense, they may never lose again. I can’t pick against them.
Danny Kelly: The Patriots are the best-coached team in the NFL. They have the most versatile and adaptable defense in the league. And though the offense hasn’t exactly been elite under Brady this season, there are still very few quarterbacks I’d trust more to deliver in crucial situations. That’s one hell of a combination.
Rodger Sherman: The Patriots currently have a 93 percent chance of securing a first-round bye, according to FiveThirtyEight, and every team that’s made the Super Bowl since 2013 has had a first-round bye. The team with the best chance to beat them is the Chiefs, who’ll have Patrick Mahomes returning from injury and will likely have already played one or two road elimination games just to get to a matchup with the Patriots in the AFC championship. It’s October, and this already feels over.
Riley McAtee: I try to avoid picking the Patriots as Super Bowl champions because (1) it’s boring, and (2) I have a Beetlejuice-esque belief that maybe if I don’t say their name out loud, they won’t make the Super Bowl. But this Pats squad is as good as any they’ve ever had—yes, that includes 2007. They’re the far-and-away favorites.
Danny Heifetz: Eons ago, Bill Belichick and Nick Saban made a blood pact. One of them would win a title every season, but never in the same year. This isn’t Alabama’s year.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Mays: Wilson has been, for my money, the best player in the NFL this season. His 68.4 completion percentage is 7.9 percentage points higher than his expected completion rate, indicating that he’s making plenty of throws he has no business making. No other QB in the league is asked to do more with less within his offensive system. He’s carrying a potential playoff team on the strength of his right arm.
Clark: I think the world is coming around on how good Wilson is. He’s been one of the top quarterbacks in the sport for basically his entire career, and the Seahawks will be relevant all season. Mahomes and Drew Brees will not play 16 games, and though Aaron Rodgers could give Wilson some competition down the stretch, I give Wilson the edge here.
Kelly: Wilson has been about as close to perfect as any quarterback in the NFL this year, and the Seahawks have absolutely needed every bit of that sterling performance. The eighth-year pro has elevated a mostly inexperienced pass-catching corps while playing behind a talent-deficient offensive line. Wilson is the reason the Seahawks are 6-2 at the season’s midway point, and he’ll be the reason they make a run at a playoff spot.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Sherman: He’s not going to miss that much playing time, and a bad Matt Moore game will go a long way toward proving his value. (This award is based off of value, right?)
McAtee: This is currently a two-horse race between Wilson and Rodgers. Sure, Kirk Cousins has put up gaudy numbers and Christian McCaffrey is a fantasy god, but I think those two are on the outside looking in. Rodgers has a better record (7-1) and more yards (2,324) than Wilson, but the Seahawks QB is above him in almost everything else: touchdowns (17), interceptions (one), passer rating (115.5), adjusted net yards per attempt (8.62), QBR (77.5), and Pro Football Focus grade (91.0). The biggest hurdle for Wilson will be that his team is unlikely to topple the 7-0 49ers in the division, and it is rare for an MVP to come from a wild-card team. But he’s still playing the best football of his career.
Heifetz: Since 2007, 10 of 12 MVP awards have gone to a quarterback for a team that earned a first-round bye. Right now, it looks like the Patriots will be the no. 1 seed in the AFC, but their defense is too good for Tom Brady to win MVP. The no. 2 seed will likely fall to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, or Deshaun Watson and the Texans, and those guys are outside candidates at best. The same dynamic exists in the NFC. The 49ers and the Saints have the inside track for a bye, but their defenses, not their quarterbacks, are the story of their season. That leaves only two serious MVP candidates: Aaron Rodgers of the 7-1 Packers and Russell Wilson of the 6-2 Seahawks. My money is on Wilson, whose candidacy will become front and center if the Seahawks beat the 49ers on Monday Night Football in Week 10, which would put them back in position to usurp the 49ers for the NFC West title.
Offensive Player of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Mays: In an era when it’s nearly impossible for any non-QB to win MVP, I like using OPOY to recognize the best skill player who’s not a QB. McCaffrey fits that bill. McCaffrey has fallen off a bit since his torrid start, during which he compiled 866 scrimmage yards in five games—the second-highest total in NFL history. But McCaffrey is still on pace for nearly 2,500 yards from scrimmage, and he’s accounted for 42.5 percent of Carolina’s scrimmage yards this season. During the Panthers’ loss to the Niners on Sunday, Carolina tallied 272 combined rushing and receiving yards. McCaffrey had 155 of them. He is the Panthers offense right now.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Clark: It is not unprecedented for a different quarterback to win this award than the one who won MVP—it notably happened in 2011 when Drew Brees won Offensive Player of the Year and Aaron Rodgers won MVP. I don’t understand what the difference is, but MVP is a narrative award. Wilson will get the nod in that regard by driving a Seahawks team with low expectations to the playoffs. Jackson is nothing short of a quarterbacking marvel, however, and by the end of the season, he will likely have the Ravens in the playoffs, have rewritten the record books for quarterback rushing, and will continue to impress with his arm. Lamar Jackson will play like an MVP but might not win it this year.
Kelly: The Panthers offense runs through McCaffrey. Dangerous on the ground and through the air, the third-year back has cemented his status as one of the most dynamic skill players in the league. He’s on pace to lead the NFL in scrimmage yards and total touchdowns.
Sherman: See: MVP
McAtee: He won’t win MVP because that award is about value by definition, and the idea that running backs aren’t very valuable has taken hold since Adrian Peterson won the trophy in 2012. But CMC has been the most outstanding playmaker this year, and he deserves recognition for that.
Heifetz: McCaffrey is third among running backs in receiving yards per game (49.0) and second in rushing yards per game (105.0), but the most impressive part of his résumé is his snap count. He plays 93.5 percent of his offense’s snaps. Compare that with Dalvin Cook, probably this season’s second-best rusher, who plays 68.7 percent of the Vikings snaps. McCaffrey’s per-snap efficiency is not as high as Cook’s, but his volume is more impressive. Being on the field so often means defenses always have to account for him, which makes all other Carolina players’ jobs easier.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jamie Collins, Patriots
Mays: The Patriots have the best statistical defense ever through eight weeks, and that should be celebrated in some way. Safety Devin McCourty leads the NFL with five interceptions, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore is still the best cover man in football. But Collins has the same number of interceptions as Gilmore (three), along with six sacks and two forced fumbles—all while playing excellent in coverage. Collins is on pace to be the first player in NFL history to record double-digit sacks and five interceptions in a season. He’s been stellar for New England. And oh, he’s also making $3 million against the cap—the 499th-largest cap hit in the NFL.
Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
Clark: My original pick was Myles Garrett, who already has double-digit sacks, but with Cleveland looking like it might not make the playoffs, Garrett’s contributions will likely go unnoticed. I think in the next few weeks, the country as a whole will come to appreciate the individual talents on this Patriots defense—if it hasn’t already—and I’m betting Gilmore, the shutdown cornerback, will get a lot of that attention. Devin McCourty, who already has five picks, has the potential to get some momentum with voters too, but Gilmore’s taking out receivers each week gets him my vote. (Oh, right. I don’t have a vote.)
Myles Garrett, Browns
Kelly: Garrett’s got some tough competition in the form of Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and the Bosa brothers (among others), but the quiet superstar is tied for the league lead with 10 sacks through seven games. He’s explosive, he’s bendy, he’s long, and he’s got elite closing speed. Garrett has a real shot to lead the league in sacks this year, and that could be the boost he needs to win in this category.
Nick Bosa, 49ers
Sherman: The 49ers’ transformation from the team that literally set the record last year for fewest forced turnovers to an undefeated maul machine is the story of the season thus far. I think some of that might have to do with every quarterback they face having 2.5 seconds tops before Bosa is standing over their neck performing an elaborate predetermined celebration based on his personal opinions about them.
Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers
McAtee: Barrett is tied for the league lead in sacks (10), which is a good accolade to have for any DPOY contender. But his team’s defense is roughly league average, which will be a significant hurdle to him winning the award. This is a wide-open race.
Dont’a Hightower, Patriots
Heifetz: Your favorite defender’s favorite defender. Usually this award goes to the league’s best pass rusher. This year will be an exception. The odds of the vote splitting among other Pats players—cornerback Stephon Gilmore, in particular—makes this pick slightly less likely to hit. But Hightower is and has been the embodiment of the Patriots Way this decade, and he is the silent engine of the year’s best defense. This is unlikely, but the right choice.
Coach of the Year
Sean Payton, Saints
Mays: New Orleans has gone undefeated without Drew Brees in the lineup this year, and while that’s a testament to Teddy Bridgewater, it also shows just how great of a coach Payton really is. He’s built an offense that can sustain the loss of a future Hall of Fame quarterback while keeping the Saints on track for the no. 1 seed in the NFC.
Clark: Kyle Shanahan or Bill Belichick could easily get votes here for putting together elite teams. But Payton went 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater, then kept the winning going when Brees was reinserted. If voting ended today, he’d win in a landslide.
Kelly: Thanks to some savvy scheming and his quietly dominant defensive group, Payton has the Saints looking like one of the top teams in the NFC.
Kyle Shanahan, 49ers
Sherman: Remember when I said Freddie Kitchens would be Coach of the Year at the beginning of the season? This is me waving a Men in Black wand at you and asking you to instead read my 2018 predictions, where I said Kyle Shanahan would be the Coach of the Year. I meant to say 2019.
McAtee: Shanahan is likely the favorite here, but the way Payton navigated the Saints through Drew Brees’s injury was massively impressive. If New Orleans can overtake the Niners and Packers and contend for the conference’s no. 1 seed, Payton will get buzz as the league’s best coach.
Bill Belichick, Patriots
Heifetz: Apologies to Frank Reich, who has fashioned a contender in Indianapolis despite Andrew Luck’s retiring, but picking anyone other than Belichick for this is silly. The Pats lost their best defensive end in free agency and top defensive assistant, and yet this is one of the best defenses ever.
Comeback Player of the Year
Cooper Kupp, Rams
Mays: Kupp is currently on pace for a final receiving line of 116 catches, 1,584 yards, and 10 touchdowns. That’s been done only 14 times in NFL history. Here are some of the other guys to do it: Jerry Rice, Lance Alworth, Antonio Brown (twice), Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Marvin Harrison (twice), and Torry Holt. Kupp is having a year that rivals the best receiving seasons the league has ever seen. And he’s doing it less than a year removed from tearing his ACL. That is ridiculous.
Teddy Bridgewater, Saints
Clark: If he never plays another snap this season, he did his job, completed his comeback from a gruesome knee injury, and kept his team in the hunt for home-field advantage. Bridgewater is the reason this award exists, even if he doesn’t start for the rest of the season.
Kelly: Kupp returned to the field in Week 1 exactly 301 days after tearing his ACL. And bafflingly, he’s looked faster and more dynamic than ever. He’s emerged as the Rams’ de facto no. 1 receiver, and, fresh off a big 220-yard day against the Bengals, he’s on pace for exceptional numbers this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Sherman: He’s not good but ... he came back, right?
McAtee: The Rams offense would be absolutely putrid without Kupp, who is second in the league in receiving yards (792) and touchdowns (five). He was Jared Goff’s go-to receiver when healthy last year, and this year has single-handedly dragged the disappointing Rams offense down the field. Kupp isn’t just back, he’s better than ever.
Cam Newton, Panthers
Heifetz: This is a bit of a gamble in a muddy field. The other candidates—Carson Wentz, Earl Thomas, Le’Veon Bell—have not played spectacularly. Garoppolo could win this by default, but he hasn’t done much this season other than hand the ball off and watch the 49ers’ running backs score. The most fascinating option is if Newton returns and leads the Panthers to a playoff push, which, strangely, might make him the obvious choice.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Mays: With the Raiders’ receiving corps depleted, Jacobs has been fantastic as the centerpiece of Oakland’s offense. He’s on pace for 1,417 rushing yards on just 283 carries, and he is currently tied for the lead league with 3.84 yards per rush after contact. Guys like Kyler Murray and Terry McLaurin have had their moments this season, but Jacobs has been arguably the most impressive runner in the NFL, no matter his age.
Clark: I stupidly picked against Jacobs at the beginning of the season, but now I understand just how talented he is. I think sometimes the boring debate about running back value can obscure the fact that even if a first-round running back is overdrafted, they can still be special players once they suit up.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Kelly: Murray took his lumps in the first month of the season, but he’s trended up over his past four games. The first overall pick has played with poise and confidence, tossing accurate darts downfield while confounding defenses with explosive acceleration and lightning-quick jukes.
Sherman: The Cardinals have already passed their win total from last season (they have 3.5!) and Kyler’s passing ability has defenses completely vacating the box to deal with Arizona’s four wide receiver sets. He’s everything I hoped for.
Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars
McAtee: In September I thought Minshew would just end up being a fun, small-sample-size side show for the early part of the season. He’d be a meme worthy of Blake Bortles’s throne, a nice source of jokes for The Good Place, and maybe, if he lasted long enough, even a popular Halloween costume. But I never thought the sixth-round pick would straight up steal Nick Foles’s job. Minshew now has 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and he’s averaging 247 yards per game on 7.6 yards per attempt. This is no fluke.
Heifetz: He is only getting better, and it is a weak race this year with Danny Dimes dropping, Dwayne Haskins barely playing, and only rookie Terry McLaurin making noise among skill position players.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Mays: Not sure this one is really up for debate. With seven sacks in seven games, Bosa is on pace to break the single-season rookie sack record set by Jevon Kearse in 1999. And these aren’t cheap, late-in-the-down sacks, either. Bosa has disrupted dropbacks at the highest rate in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and his 11 tackles for loss are tied for league lead. He’s been utterly dominant.
Clark: The best thing I can say is that I almost made him my pick for defensive player of the year in general, not just for a rookie.
Kelly: Bosa’s already got the Defensive Rookie of the Year award all but locked up and could have a legit shot at Defensive Player of the Year honors too. The former Buckeye has quickly emerged as an edge menace for the Niners.
Sherman: Yes, he’d be the first DPOY/DROY since Lawrence Taylor.
McAtee: San Francisco has a dominant defense that would be grabbing more headlines if it weren’t for the Patriots’ historic unit. Bosa is both the catalyst of the 49ers’ dramatic improvement and the face of the team’s ferocious defense.
Heifetz: Through seven games, Bosa has a better shot at winning Defensive Player of the Year than losing Defensive Rookie of the Year. He creates highlights on virtually every play, whether it’s from a bull rush, a flag plant celebration, or both. He’s the only defensive rookie who could be a household name by the end of the year.